By Brenna R. Kelly
It’s hot in Mexico, snowing in Peru, storming in Chile and sunny in Colombia.
That was the weather report South Floyd High School students delivered to elementary students across Eastern Kentucky earlier this year via a livestream video.
The high school students didn’t just report the weather conditions in the Spanish-speaking countries, they reported them in Spanish and English while pointing out the countries on a map.
The video – and others with topics such as Christmas traditions, foods, family members and even a Jeopardy episode – are all part of ¡Grita Fuerte!, an online learning community designed to connect students and teachers in Eastern Kentucky.
“We are so isolated here,” said Gloria Newsome, the Spanish teacher at South Floyd. “There are not very many other world language teachers within our school systems. Some counties only have one in the county.”
The ¡Grita Fuerte! – which means shout out loud – community helps teachers find colleagues to collaborate with and gives students the chance to practice speaking with Spanish students in other counties, she said.
The online community is part of The Holler, a website created by the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) and the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative to promote conversations about technology and learning in the Central Appalachian region. The website serves as a social network and hub for instructional videos and learning initiatives.
The site, which began in 2014, has more than 3,000 registered users and more than 70 groups, called Hollers.
The ¡Grita Fuerte! Holler was created by KVEC Community Engagement Coordinator Tanya Turner who recruited Newsome, Harlan County High School Spanish teacher Emmanuel Anama-Green and Knott County Central High School Spanish teacher Tamara Kunkel last fall to become part of the KVEC’s professional action network called the Holler Fellows.
The group met in person and through video conferencing to help each other plan lessons and to help improve world language education in the region. They also planned Holler Days, during which their classes used the Holler website to talk to each other in Spanish. Amana-Green said each student had to post something in Spanish and then respond to a student in another county using Spanish.
“It’s sort of like a Facebook for the students,” Newsome said. “They actually introduced themselves, they would talk each other a little bit.”
Kunkel said the Holler website is safer for students to use than most social media or public websites.
“It’s used only for educational purposes and membership is closely monitored by the Holler staff, and by the students’ teachers,” she said “Students can personalize their accounts, earn badges, and join other Hollers they find interesting.”
The ¡Grita Fuerte! Holler has 505 members, the second-largest group of the 70 on the website.
The high school Spanish teachers decided to try to reach out to elementary schools this school year because most in Eastern Kentucky do not have world language teachers. The high school teachers had their students create lessons that would not only provide a bit of world language instruction to elementary school students, but also help the high school students improve their Spanish-speaking skills, Anama-Green said.
The program is one of the many innovative ways that schools across the state have found to help elementary schools without world language teachers expose their students to variety of languages and cultures, said Alfonso De Torres Núñez, the Kentucky Department of Education’s world language/global competency consultant.
The Kentucky Board of Education in 2014 committed to developing students who will graduate ready to compete in a 21st Century global economy. That means they can weigh perspectives other than their own and communicate their ideas to a diverse audience.
“This is a perfect example of collaboration between world languages teachers and an educational cooperative to produce opportunities for students to learn world languages in areas where the access to this type of program is limited,” De Torres Núñez said.
The video lessons work in two ways because in addition to the elementary students being exposed to the language, the high school students are practice speaking the language, he said. And some of the high school students also may learn that they enjoy teaching.
“These students are getting an opportunity to experience what being a teacher looks like,” De Torres Núñez said, “so it’s possible these videos are creating future world language teachers or educators in general for Kentucky schools.”
Anama-Green said that preparing for the live videos helped motivate his students.
“They were all eager when they got to do it,” he said. “My Spanish I kids, which are mostly freshman and sophomores, they really just dove right in.”
Newsome agreed that having to practice speaking Spanish for the live videos helped her students.
“It’s giving them confidence in their use of Spanish,” she said. “When they feel like they are teaching the younger kids something they know, it gives them more self confidence in what they are learning.”
Each county choose a different topic so the elementary schools will have a variety of content in the lessons, he said. The videos range from about 5 minutes to 22 minutes long.
Newsome’s first livestream was about Los Posadas, a Christmas tradition in Mexico that celebrates the nativity story of Jesus’ birth. One student dressed as Santa Claus and at the end of the video, all of students sang “Feliz Navidad.”
Their second video was the weather. Anama-Green’s students taught lessons about food and family. Kunkel’s students in Knott County County shared Christmas traditions from several different Spanish-speaking countries and played the Spanish Jeopardy game using words that students might use at school
“The best thing my kids got out of it was that when they are teaching the younger learners, it makes them learn the content better,” Newsome said.
Kunkel agreed. Her students had to learn new vocabulary to play the Jeopardy game, she said.
And though it was extra work, Kunkel’s students said playing the game and teaching the younger students was worth it.
“The game really tested every student’s Spanish knowledge, and was a great review tactic for our upcoming tests,” said student Eden Slone. “Most importantly, we had fun while doing it. It was truly an example of how class work can be just as fun as it is beneficial.”
The elementary school teachers also found the videos beneficial and have thanked the high school teachers for the creating them, Newsome said.
“I actually have a grandchild in one of the classes and he’s still learning from it, because his teacher continued with some Spanish instruction,” Newsome said.
Some teachers added on to the content taught in the video with lessons about numbers or colors, she said. Additional Spanish lessons and documents to go along with them are also available on the ¡Grita Fuerte! site.
“The elementary schools are really taking advantage of if it,” Newsome said, “and I think they really want and need what we are giving them, so it’s a really good thing.”
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